Since 1988, SummerSlam has been WWE’s second biggest show of the year. As we count down the days to the 2016 edition, the Top Ten will rank the annual event’s matches year-by-year to determine the best SummerSlam matches of all time.
In this edition, it’s the end (?) of the Summer of Punk!
SummerSlam 2011 – August 14, 2011, Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
As bad as SummerSlam 2010 was, things were completely turned around by the middle of 2011. And while CM Punk’s pipe bomb promo and win at July’s Money in the Bank gets a lot of the credit, he wasn’t the only guy firing on all cylinders.
No one doubted that CM Punk and John Cena could have what amounted to classic matches this summer. The emotion they both brought to their story lifted the feud to epic levels and the anticipation was high for the main event. But the biggest surprise of the summer, I think was the amazing feud over the World Heavyweight Championship between Randy Orton and Christian.
Don’t worry, we’ll be discussing Punk a lot this time around, just not yet.
As SummerSlam 2011 begins, Christian has the belt, having beat Orton at MitB in July, taking advantage of a stipulation where Orton would lose the belt if disqualified. Christian’s weaselly win and his gloating earned Orton a rematch at SummerSlam, with a “No Holds Barred” stipulation added in, putting the champion at a disadvantage against an avowed psychopath like Orton.
The end result is quite possibly my favorite Randy Orton match of all time, and definitely my favorite singles Christian match ever. The opening of the match, where Christian calls out Edge to be in his corner and the recently-retired Rated R Superstar chided his best friend for being a little bitch was a great moment and added a lot of psychology to the match, as the champ seemed to pull out all the stops to beat Orton and prove Edge wrong.
As I said, the World Heavyweight Championship match is often overlooked here because of the main event, but it is definitely a classic. It just happened to come right before…
Best Match: CM Punk (c) defeated John Cena (c) – Undisputed WWE Championship Match.
Worst Match: Alberto del Rio defeated CM Punk (c) – WWE Title Match
We’re going to take these together, since they’re all part of the same segment and are perfect examples of what WWE was doing right and what WWE was doing wrong in 2011. Obviously, pushing CM Punk was a good decision. The Second City Saint had a broad following, and the “Summer of Punk” as he marched on his way to the top of the company really engaged a lot of fans who had stopped following the company, because they were doing something new.
While the Cena-Punk match, with newly-named WWE Chief Operating Officer Triple H as the special guest referee, was another classic SummerSlam match, I really do believe they could have stretched the story out a few weeks longer and had Punk return here, after Cena beat Rey Mysterio for the title and set up a huge rematch for Night of Champions. Instead, we got a very rushed angle where they held a tournament one week, the finals open the next week and then John Cena wins the belt back two hours later to set up the Punk return.
But all of that is really irrelevant to the match here. Despite the disputed finish with Triple H counting Cena’s shoulders down for the three even though his foot was on the rope, Punk and Cena had a great match. Triple H was a completely neutral arbiter while Punk wanted nothing to do with his praise or congratulations, muddying up the waters for what came next. As Triple H walked to the back and Punk celebrated in the ring, Triple H’s good pal Kevin Nash came into the ring and slammed Punk with a power bomb before Alberto del Rio came out to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase. All the while, Triple H looked confused. Which was hysterical.
The ending really deflated everything that was set up with Punk’s win and definitely left everyone confused. The next few months of shows still left things flat when they should have been riding a successful wave. Punk eventually got the title back and held on to it for more than 400 days, but the momentum was clearly derailed by the way SummerSlam 2011 ended.
Tear Them Down, Build Them Back: The other Money in the Bank briefcase holder going into this show was Daniel Bryan, who had a match with the former Nexus leader Wade Barrett. Since to this point no briefcase holder had ever failed a cash-in, they were clearly building the former American Dragon up for an eventual title reign, so of course, Barrett hit his finisher on Bryan and pinned him. You’ve got to make sure the guy who’ll be champion soon loses some heat on the way, you know.
Return to Awesome: Mark Henry has been on the WWF/E roster since 1996, and he was fairly lame for most of that. But his match here with Sheamus – who dropped a long way from his WWE Title run the previous year – was part of something special. Wig splitting, Hall of Pain Mark Henry, the guy who eventually destroyed Orton for the World Heavyweight Championship, was simply awesome. And his defeat of Sheamus here was a sight, running the Celtic Warrior through the guard rail on the way to a countout win. Good stuff.
The SummerSlam Top 20!
Oh yeah, this is a great show, which means we get significant movement!
*DISCLAIMER* The Top Ten is for discussion purposes only and is in no way an official or authoritative list. It is simply my opinion.
1 – Undertaker defeated Edge – Hell in a Cell (2008)
2 – CM Punk (c) defeated John Cena (c) – Undisputed WWE Championship Match (2011)
3 – Shawn Michaels defeated Triple H – Street Fight (2002)
4 – Bret “Hitman” Hart (c) defeated Owen Hart – WWF Title Steel Cage Match (1994)
5 – Shawn Michaels (c) defeated Razor Ramon – Intercontinental Title Ladder Match (1995)
6 – Kurt Angle beat “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (c) by DQ – WWF Title Match (2001)
7 – Bret “Hitman” Hart defeated Mr. Perfect (c) – Intercontinental Title Match (1991)
8 – Davey Boy Smith defeated Bret “Hitman” Hart (c) – Intercontinental Title Match (1992)
9 – Randy Orton defeated Christian (c) – No Holds Barred World Heavyweight Championship Match (2011)
10 – Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard defeated the Hart Foundation (1989)
11 – Edge and Christian (c) defeated the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz – TLC Tag Team Title Match (2000)
12 – Randy Orton defeated the Undertaker (2005)
13 – Brock Lesnar defeated The Rock (c) – WWE Title Match (2002)
14 – CM Punk defeated Jeff Hardy (c) – TLC World Heavyweight Championship Match (2009)
15 – The Hart Foundation defeated Demolition (c) – 2-out-of-3 Falls Tag Team Title Match (1990)
16 – John Cena (c) defeated Randy Orton – WWE Title Match (2007)
17 – Ultimate Warrior defeated “Ravishing” Rick Rude (c) – Intercontinental Title Match(1989)
18 – “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan defeated Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant (1988)
19 – The Rock (c) defeated Triple H and Kurt Angle – Triple Threat WWF Title Match (2000)
20 – Bret “Hitman” Hart defeated Undertaker (c) – WWF Title Match (1997)